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It's never too late to learn

A huge Tanjore painting is hung on her wall, a number of bouquets rest proudly on the table and well kept bonsais fringe her garden. Inside the bedroom, the grandchildren are enjoying their favourite cartoon network show. Amidst their peals of laughter and the incessant ringing of the telephone, a short-statured, bespectacled woman draped in a crisp, Gardwal cotton sari moves around as busy as a bee, giving orders to the cook, clearing the table and getting her favourite pooja room ready for the Shravana Sukhravaram festivity the next day. For Mangalagowri it is just another day.

Meet Dr. Nalam Mangalagowri - socialite, grandmother of six, the lady with the green fingers (winner of a number of coveted awards for her garden), one of the most sought after gourmet cooks in the city, etc.

But wait... Here is the crowing glory. She has just been awarded her Ph.D in music at the ripe age of 68!

At an age when people, especially women, are beyond retirement, she has gone out and got herself a doctorate in her favourite Carnatic music! If this information has made you sit up, read on to know more about woman power sans age! Born in Madras - the abode of fine arts, music, dance and drama, Mangalagowri was surrounded by classical artistes from birth. Her mother was a Carnatic singer and her elder brother and sister mastered the violin and veena respectively to became "A" grade artistes with All India Radio. Her father, Nalam Ramalingesvara Rao, was the pillar who promoted these fine arts.

It would always be a deep discussion on the nuances of Carnatic music that took centre stage whenever the family got together. It was at one such a meeting of minds that little Mangala heard of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. His contribution of the world of Indian music astonished her. By then her elder sister, Nalam Amrutam, was a famous Bharatanatyam dancer who was the proud recipient of many awards and accolades. Her brother went into film composing, and Mangala was only to stand at the back and support these stars.

Slowly, by default, the shades of the music rubbed off on her and the abstract, mysterious essence of the Carnatic genre of music became a part of her life. Music became her obvious choice as lead subject in under-graduation.

Mangala's marriage to A.S. Raja of Vizag was the turning point in her life. It was her supportive mother-in-law who encouraged her to carry on with her musical dreams. "Coming to think of it after so many years, I actually danced at my own wedding party on the insistence of my athagaru" reminiscenes Mangalagowri. "This was unheard-off even those days but I knew that life was going to be different from that day."

Her in-laws brought home guru Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana to teach their new daughter-in-law, and the mother-in-law would beam with a new found happiness watching the scene. Soon, Mangala was a popular concert performer at sabhas.

A series of versatile gurus followed, including Sri Vasa Krsna Murthy and playback singer Vakkalanka Sarala. To Mangala's fortune, Andhra University started a department of music in 1989 and she was enrolled into the very first batch for her post-graduation. Here she met the late L. S. R. Krishna Sastri, who was a beacon of hope and a good adviser to her and played a sterling role in her life.

But something was still missing. Mangala was not able to do full justice to the songs she was rendering as the language was alien to her. So she joined in for a second master's degree in Sanskrit in 1994 which increased her appreciation and appetite for music. It was her chance meeting with Arundhati Sarcar, who was her teacher in AU that opened up a new world of hope for her. Arundhati, a pet student of the maestro D. K. Patammal possessed a deep-set knowledge of .Muthuswamy Dikshitar.

"Dikshitar"...The name that had invoked a hundred responses in her childlike mind at the tender age of 12 was now back to goad her again. Her curiosity to know more about the great vaggeyakara and her unquenched thirst for knowledge paved the path for her to take up research on his 'Divine Heritage'.She dedicated her leisure time in unraveling his vast ocean of mysterious music.

Her visit to Tiruvayyar to sing at the university competition brought her in closer proximity with the Musical Trinity and their kritis.

"An emotionally exhilarating experience entangled in devotion" as Mangala puts it. Her thesis is a collective result of all her dreams and her official award a few months ago brought along with it rave reviews of the high quality of work and academic excellence of the scholar in her.

One of the very few expert scholars on the eternal enigma of Dikshitar, worldwide, was born. Dikshitar has more than 500 rare ragas. The Ganapathi kritis are lyrical treats. Scholars, understanding of Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit, helped her to relish every bit. It is said that no dream is too big and no mortal too small to achieve it.

But for 68-year-old Dr.Mangalagowri it has been a balancing act between her wonderful joint family, a keen interest in maintaining one of the best gardens in the city, a talent for arts and crafts ( she makes some of the best Tanjore paintings in Vizag) and a penchant for social work (as the first lady of the Lions movement where her husband became the Lions District Governor).

Her three sons are well known people. Her eldest son, Vijay Atmakuri, an M.B.A. from Arlington University, now takes care of the home business- the big ASR group which includes the Geet -Sangeet theatres, a blooming mushroom business, hospitals, etc. The second boy, Ram, a biochemical engineer in the US is Vice - President of the reputed J.B.Morgan, while the youngest is the very popular gastero-enterologist A.Shivprasad who has been making waves with his expertise in endoscopy in this city.

Her daughter-in-law Dr. Sugathi runs the A.S.Raja Blood Bank, while Vijay's wife Vasumathi is one of the most helpful and active woman in the city - be it in the sports field or at the club.

It's time for the interview to be over. Dr. Mangalgowri needs to pack her bags as she and her husband are leaving to the US in a few days. She knows she needs this vacation because once she is back she has to start publishing her research papers in journals.

I stare at this amazing woman of substance and silently pray for her long and happy life. There is surely a lesson to be learnt here. May her tribe of superwomen increase!

MEENAKSHI ANANTRAM

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